The transition to kindergarten is a magical milestone for children and families. For students identified with special needs, there are additional worries and celebrations to share with the transition team. The research site included in this study comprises pre-K programs that operated through a cooperative agreement between a Maine school district and Head Start. In the State of Maine, preschool students who are identified with a disability are provided services and programming through a Maine Department of Education (MDOE) agency: Child Development Services (CDS). For public pre-K programs in Maine, this created a unique situation. While the pre-K programs are located in and funded by the local school district, CDS is responsible for providing special education services. The purpose of this study is to provide qualitative information that will inform local, state, and national educational systems regarding improving practices around the transition of students with disabilities from pre-K to kindergarten.
The following research questions guided this study: (1) How can a school district improve transition practices that support pre-K children with disabilities entering kindergarten programming in an elementary school setting? (2) How do pre-K teachers, kindergarten teachers, Head Start administrators, and district administrators describe their experiences when transitioning pre-K children with disabilities to kindergarten programming in an elementary school setting? Semi- structured interviews were conducted with 13 stakeholders from public school and Head Start/ iii pre-K. Data analysis followed Atkinson’s four-step process. Three themes emerged: pre-K improvement practices, public school improvement practices, and mutual improvement practices. Nine sub-themes emerged from the qualitative interviews: assessments, pre-K teachers, services in pre-K, observations, services in kindergarten, collaboration, communication, parents, and transition meetings. This study revealed stakeholders’ perceptions regarding both strengths and weaknesses with the practice of transition into kindergarten for students with special needs. Districts can develop strategies to improve transition practice. This could include the development of an organizational framework to support collaborative pre-K programming and the establishment of a service delivery model for identified pre-K students.